The MQ-9 Reaper UAV, once called “Predator B,” is somewhat similar to the famous Predator. Until you look at the tail. Or its size. Or its weapons. It’s called “Reaper” for a reason: while it packs the same surveillance gear, it’s much more of a hunter-killer design. Some have called it the first fielded Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV).
The Reaper UCAV will play a significant role in the future USAF, even though its capability set makes the MQ-9 considerably more expensive than MQ-1 Predators. Given these high-end capabilities and expenses, one may not have expected the MQ-9 to enjoy better export success than its famous cousin. Nevertheless, that’s what appears to be happening. MQ-9 operators currently include the USA and Britain, who use it in hunter-killer mode, and Italy. Several other countries are expressing interest, and the steady addition of new payloads are expanding the Reaper’s advantage over competitors…
Latest updates[?]: The US Navy has awarded BAE Systems a $26 million contract for Identification Friend-or-Foe (IFF) spares for the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft. Under the contract, BAE Systems will provide Beamforming Networks (BFNs), an integral part of antenna control for the AN/APX-122A IFF Interrogator system, onboard the carrier-capable tactical aircraft.
Northrop Grumman’s E-2C Hawkeye is a carrier-capable “mini-AWACS” aircraft, designed to give long-range warning of incoming aerial threats. Secondary roles include strike command and control, land and maritime surveillance, search and rescue, communications relay, and even civil air traffic control during emergencies. E-2C Hawkeyes began replacing previous Hawkeye versions in 1973. They fly from USN and French carriers, from land bases in the militaries of Egypt, Japan, Mexico, and Taiwan; and in a drug interdiction role for the US Naval Reserve. Over 200 Hawkeyes have been produced.
The $17.5 billion E-2D Advanced Hawkeye program aims to build 75 new aircraft with significant radar, engine, and electronics upgrades in order to deal with a world of stealthier cruise missiles, saturation attacks, and a growing need for ground surveillance as well as aerial scans. It looks a lot like the last generation E-2C Hawkeye 2000 upgrade on the outside – but inside, and even outside to some extent, it’s a whole new aircraft.
Latest updates[?]: French and German defense ministers signed the second Franco-German intergovernmental cooperation agreement in the field of tactical air transport on August 30, 2021. It aims to create a bi-national squadron and a training center at the Evreux air base,France with a view to operating a fleet of C-130J planes. This signature will allow the formal establishment of the Franco-German squadron on 1 st September 2021.
RAAF C-130J-30, flares
The C-130 Hercules remains one of the longest-running aerospace manufacturing programs of all time. Since 1956, over 40 models and variants have served as the tactical airlift backbone for over 50 nations. The C-130J looks similar, but the number of changes almost makes it a new aircraft. Those changes also created issues; the program has been the focus of a great deal of controversy in America – and even of a full program restructuring in 2006. Some early concerns from critics were put to rest when the C-130J demonstrated in-theater performance on the front lines that was a major improvement over its C-130E/H predecessors. A valid follow-on question might be: does it break the bottleneck limitations that have hobbled a number of multi-billion dollar US Army vehicle development programs?
C-130J customers now include Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, India, Israel, Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Tunisia, and the United States. American C-130J purchases are taking place under both annual budgets and supplemental wartime funding, in order to replace tactical transport and special forces fleets that are flying old aircraft and in dire need of major repairs. This DID FOCUS Article describes the C-130J, examines the bottleneck issue, covers global developments for the C-130J program, and looks at present and emerging competitors.
Latest updates[?]: The Kuwaiti Army will start to receive the upgraded M1A2 Abrams main battle tank (MBT), known as M1A2K, almost two years behind the initial schedule. In its announcement of the news via social media in late July, the army claimed the M1A2K will enter operational service "soon" and boost the combat efficiency of the Kuwaiti land forces. Kuwait plans to upgrade all 218 of its Abrams MBTs to the M1A2K configuration, but the program's timeframe seems to have been revised after it encountered delays for undisclosed reasons.
America’s M1 Abrams tanks come in a number of versions. In addition to the M1A1 that is now standard, the US Army is beginning to field its M1 TUSK for urban warfare. It also operates the M1A2 System Enhancement Program (SEP), currently the most advanced standard variant.
This Spotlight article covers the M1A2 Abrams SEP upgrade program, and will be updated and backfilled as new contracts are issued and key events take place.
Latest updates[?]: The US Marine Corps (USMC) has flown the first AH-1Z flight that has Link-16 capability. Bell says a two-way connection was completed from the helicopter to a ground station. Bell added that the Link-16 package from Northrop Grumman adds a new digital moving map, a new security architecture and Advanced Networking Wideband Waveform (ANW2) datalinks to the helicopter.
UH-1Y and AH-1Z
by Neville Dawson
The US Marines’ helicopter force is aging at all levels, from banana-shaped CH-46 Sea Knight transports that are far older than their pilots, to the 1980s-era UH-1N Hueys and AH-1W Cobra attack helicopters that make up the Corps’ helicopter assault force. While the tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey program has staggered along for almost 2 decades under accidents, technical delays, and cost issues, replacement of the USMC’s backbone helicopter assets has languished. Given the high-demand scenarios inherent in the current war, other efforts are clearly required.
Enter the H-1 program, the USMC’s plan to remanufacture older helicopters into new and improved UH-1Y utility and AH-1Z attack helicopters. The new versions would discard the signature 2-bladed rotors for modern 4-bladed improvements, redo the aircraft’s electronics, and add improved engines and weapons to offer a new level of performance. It seemed simple, but hasn’t quite worked out that way. The H-1 program has encountered its share of delays and issues, but the program survived its review, and continued on into production and deployment.
DID’s FOCUS articles offer in-depth, updated looks at significant military programs of record. This article covers the H-1 helicopter programs’ rationales and changes, the upgrades involved in each model, program developments and annual budgets, the full timeline of contracts and key program developments, and related research sources.
Latest updates[?]: Boeing won an $18.9 million order, which provides for the production and delivery of 48 automatic backup oxygen system retrofit kits for the T-45 aircraft, to include installation tooling, engineering reach back, spares and support equipment. The T-45A Goshawk is a tandem-seat, carrier capable, jet trainer whose mission is to train Navy and Marine Corps pilots. Work will take place in Texas and Missouri. Expected completion is in September 2022.
Do you feel lucky…?
The T-45 Training System includes T-45 Goshawk aircraft, advanced flight simulators, computer-assisted instructional programs, a computerized training integration system, and a contractor logistics support package. The integration of all 5 elements is designed to produce a superior pilot in less time and at lower cost than previous training systems.
The US Navy uses the Hawk-based T-45TS system to train its pilots for the transition from T-6A Texan II/ JPATS aircraft to modern jet fighters – and carrier landings. This is not a risk-free assignment, by any means. Nevertheless, it is a critical link in the naval aviation chain. This DID FOCUS article covers the T-45TS, and associated contracts to buy and maintain these systems, from 2006 to the end of FY 2014.
Latest updates[?]: NHIndustries has flown the first of 22 new NH90 helicopters for Qatar, with the consortium announcing in late December 2020 that both variants ordered by the Gulf state had made their maiden flights. According to NHI, the flights of the first NATO Frigate Helicopter (NFH) and Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH) variant NH90 for the Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF) included take-off, general handling, functional checks, and landing operations. The QEAF is due to receive 12 maritime NFH and 16 land-based TTH variant NH90s under a USD2.8 billion deal signed in March 2018.
NH90: TTH & NFH
The NH90 emerged from a requirement that created a NATO helicopter development and procurement agency in 1992 and, at almost the same time, established NH Industries (62.5% EADS Eurocopter, 32.5% AgustaWestland, and 5% Stork Fokker) to build the hardware. The NATO Frigate Helicopter was originally developed to fit between light naval helicopters like AW’s Lynx or Eurocopter’s Panther, and medium-heavy naval helicopters like the European EH101. A quick look at the NFH design showed definite possibilities as a troop transport helicopter, however, and soon the NH90 project had branched into 2 versions, with more to follow.
The nearest equivalent would be Sikorsky’s popular H-60Seahawk/ Black Hawk family, but the NH90 includes a set of innovative features that give it some distinguishing selling points. Its combination of corrosion-proofing, lower maintenance, greater troop or load capacity, and the flexibility offered by that rear ramp have made the NH90 a popular global competitor.
As many business people discover the hard way, however, success can be almost as dangerous as failure. NH Industries has had great difficulty ramping up production fast enough to meet promised deliveries, which has left several buyers upset. Certification and acceptance have also been slow, with very few NH90s in service over a decade after the first contracts were signed. Booked orders have actually been sliding backward over the last year, and currently stand at around 500 machines, on behalf of 14 nations.
Latest updates[?]: McCallie Associates won a $27.6 million contract for C-5M sustainment. This contract is for the delivery of technical data for organizational maintenance of the C-5M using a common source database. The C-5M Super Galaxy strategic transport aircraft, a modernized version of the legacy C-5, was designed and manufactured by Lockheed Martin to extend the capability of the C-5 Galaxy fleet to remain in service at least until 2040. The C-5M Super Galaxy transport aircraft achieved initial operational capability (IOC) in February 2014. Work will take place in Nebraska. Expected completion date is June 9, 2025.
When it was introduced, back in 1970, the C-5 Galaxy was the largest plane in the world. It also has the highest operating cost of any US Air Force weapon system, owing to extremely high maintenance demands as well as poor fuel economy. Worse, availability rates routinely hover near 50%. To add insult to injury, the Russians not only built a bigger plane (the AN-124), they sold it off at the end of the Cold War to semi-private operators, turning it into a commercial success whose customer list now includes… NATO.
Meanwhile, the USA still needs long-range, heavy load airlift. The AN-124’s commercial success may get its production line restarted, but the C-5 has no such hope. Boeing’s smaller C-17s cost more than $200 million per plane. That’s about the cost of a 747-8 freighter, for much higher availability rates than the C-5, and a longer lifespan.
What’s the right balance between new C-17s and existing C-5s? The US Air Force believes that the right balance involves keeping some of the larger C-5s, and thought they could save money by upgrading and renewing their avionics (AMP) and engines (RERP). Their hope was that this would eliminate the problems that keep so many C-5s in the hangar, cut down on future maintenance costs, and grow airlift capacity, without adding new planes. Unfortunately, the program experienced major cost growth. In response, the C-5M program wound up being both cut in size, and cut in 2. The C-5A and C-5B/C fleets are now slated for different treatment, which will deliver fewer of the hoped-for benefits, in exchange for lower costs and lower risk.
Latest updates[?]: International Enterprises won a $12.5 million requirements contract requirements contract for F-16 modular low power radio frequency (MLPRF) and dual mode transmitter (DMT) repairs. This contract provides for the repair of both MLPRF and DMT, which function as part of the radar systems of each F-16 C/D aircraft. The General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon is a single-engine supersonic multirole fighter aircraft originally developed by General Dynamics for the USAF. One of the most versatile aircraft in the US Air Force inventory, the F-16 Fighting Falcon has been the mainstay of the Air Force aerial combat fleet. With over 1,000 F-16s in service, the platform has been adapted to complete a number of missions, including air-to-air fighting, ground attack and electronic warfare. Work will take place in Alabama. Estimated completion date is December 6, 2025.
F-16F “Desert Falcon”
The most advanced F-16s in the world aren’t American. That distinction belongs to the UAE, whose F-16 E/F Block 60s are a half-generation ahead of the F-16 C/D Block 50/52+ aircraft that form the backbone of the US Air Force, and of many other fleets around the world. The Block 60 has been described as a lower-budget alternative to the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, and there’s a solid argument to be made that their performance figures and broad sensor array will even keep them ahead of pending F-16 modernizations in countries like Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore.
The UAE invested in the “Desert Falcon’s” development, and the contract reportedly includes royalty fees if other countries buy it. Investment doesn’t end when the fighters are delivered, either. Money is still needed for ongoing training, fielding, and equipment needs – and the UAE has decided that they need more planes, too. This DID article showcases the F-16 Block 60/61, and offers a window into its associated costs and life cycle, including dedicated equipment purchases for this fighter fleet.
Latest updates[?]: The United Kingdom has renewed for a further five years its Graphical Electronic Cockpit Organizer (GECO) Mission Support System (GECO MSS) contract for the Royal Air Force (RAF’s) Puma Force. This contract extension with Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) will see RAF Benson’s 33 and 230 squadrons equipped with the system until 2025, with the Westland-Aerospatiale SA 330E Puma HC2 fleet using GECO MSS on all flying operations in the UK and internationally. GECO Air, as the system is known in its airborne configuration, is designed to complement an aircraft’s existing onboard avionics systems by bringing commercial off-the-shelf hardware technology to the cockpit.
In 2006 Britain considered one of the most unusual public-private proposals ever seen. The question before the Ministry of Defense was how to replace Britain’s remaining H-3 Sea Kings, and its 34 AS330 Puma HC1 medium helicopters, all of which entered service during the 1960s and 1970s. Eventually, Britain formally abandoned its public-private partnership proposal in favor of an upgrade contract for its old AS330 Pumas, which narrowly survived cancellation.